"Do you yield?" Poppy said, working to catch her breath after that leap. "I have no intention of killing you."
Boheme tensed, the heat of the Lapis blade singeing their delicate raven curls.
"Whatever," Boheme growled. "Fuck your pity."
Boheme's shoulder blades itched as Poppy moved closer, her blade still pointed at their delicate nerves, one slice away from ribbons and ruin. They were tempted to dash away and regain their footing, but the blade was too close for Boheme to do much of anything, other than try to manipulate the situation to their advantage.
"This is my last contract," Boheme said. "I can't just… not. The pay's too good. It'll set me up for a different life; a life without Overtures. Can you imagine? Finally being free?"
Poppy remained silent, landing her dense shoe against Boheme's left kidney, causing them to drop their blade, doubling over in pain.
"A Master's life without Overtures isn't possible," Poppy said, kicking the blade away before Boheme could scramble after it. "No one gets out. Not me and not you. All we can ever be are someone else's tools, no matter how much we earn. Whatever price you were promised won't be enough to buy your freedom."
Doubled over and furious, Boheme wheezed a response.
"A pampered little Master like you telling me to give up on being free? The hell do you know, blondie?"
"I know how to best you in a fight, that's for sure."
"Stop talking and get it over with!" Boheme yelled, drawing themself up, clutching their side. "I'm over listening to your privileged white girl bragging. If you're going to talk all night, I'd rather be dead anyway."
"I'm being paid to not kill you," Poppy whispered, her mouth suddenly close enough to draw a shiver up Boheme's spine.
Boheme took the opportunity to whirl around on a foot to face their unlikely opponent, this woman with short blonde hair and impossible emerald eyes. Beyond those eyes, her features were relatively plain – average lips, slightly round face, thin eyebrows shaved down to almost nothing, as was the aesthetic of the moment. In sunglasses, no one would notice her at all. She would blend in with every other upper crust kid in a crowd.
"That makes no sense," Boheme said, wincing as they stood up straight. "Overtures are confusing as hell but they wouldn't just tell you to not kill another Master in a duel. What are you playing at here, vipe?"
Vipes, short for Vipers, was what the rest of the world referred to duelists as. Masters often acted as the quiet, private assassins for the plutocrats. Their craft was cold and deadly, lying in wait to act out an Overture before the target registered their own death. Masters rarely referred to one another as vipe, as it was considered derogatory among the covens around the world.
Poppy shrugged at Boheme's insult.
"Who are you?" Boheme continued, digging. "You're a kid. Overtures don't tend to give candy to babies, even baby vipes."
The woman kept her blade vertical and gripped tightly in her hand. There wouldn't be an easy way for Boheme to knock her over to get to their Lapis blade, which had ceased its humming and lay inert on the other side of the balcony.
"Between professionals, I'm known as Poppy. But on another note, maybe all I am is a slippery slope that you seem to have found yourself raging upon," Poppy said, smiling softly. "Or perhaps your sore feelings are preventing you from seeing the opportunity in front of you. "
Boheme frowned, angling their feet towards the woman and directly away from their abandoned blade. If they could keep her distracted for just a little while longer, they might be able to retrieve their blade.
"Unless you're willing to pay my ticket out of this life, I doubt your 'opportunity' is worth anything to me."
The city bleated below, a cacophony of sirens and horns, as the sky ripped itself apart. Violent lightning streaked across the sky, caught by a spire overhead. Sudden bursts of thunder startled both masters as they fought to maintain composure in the pouring rain, one anxious to continue, the other determined to stop. It had moved from steady to torrential in a matter of minutes, creating tiny neon rivers and pools at their feet.
"What are they promising you in return for not killing me?" Boheme asked, finally able to straighten up despite their throbbing side. "It has to be a small fortune."
Poppy hesitated, the steps of her pacing slowing as she worked out how to answer.
"It is, isn't it."
She glowered at them under her full lashes, her emerald eyes wide with anger.
"I don't have to tell you anything," Poppy said, resuming her methodical prowl in front of Boheme. "The Overtures are private on purpose. Why are you so eager to die on this balcony?"
Boheme stepped back lightly, only a few inches, but enough to ensure that a backwards somersault could retrieve their sword.
"Vipe, no one's dying on this rooftop but you. I'm going to take my maman to the country and finally set us up for a life that won't ask more of us than we can give. This je m’en fiche of a city can rot when we're gone."
A rogue alarm sounded on the floor below, almost in response.
Poppy started, giving Boheme the perfect opportunity to retrieve their sword. They rolled backwards, exacerbating the stitch in their side that Poppy's boot had left, and picked up the Lapis in one smooth motion. Boheme resumed their stance, blade at the ready. There was no way after all of the years that they'd worked towards that they were going to let this opportunity pass them by. This rotten city was no match for their resolve, not after years of anguish and pain in the lower levels, ingesting noxious gasses left by the world above, the world Boheme and Poppy were currently invading.
A quick pivot on one foot caught Poppy up to what Boheme had done, her stance echoing theirs. The masters were implacable, immovable in the wind that was whipping around them. Nothing existed outside of this moment for either of them. What happened next would decide their futures, their fates. Boheme tensed against the pain in their side. Poppy's blonde hair was plastered to her head as the rain threatened to drown them both.
Boheme struck first.